Story contributed by Jane Parikh of the Michigan Crossroads Council
Peter “Madcat” Ruth could stay in hotels when touring, but the Grammy-award winning musician and Eagle Scout says he prefers to camp like he did when he was a Boy Scout.
“I’ve already been camping two weekends with my wife and I camped during two summer music festivals I was performing in as well,” Madcat said.
He recently took some time out from his busy performance schedule to talk about the impact that Scouting had on him as a youth growing up in the Chicago suburbs. But, before he began discussing his experiences, he recited the Scout Oath and Law verbatim and said he has always lived those words.
“The main thing Scouting taught me was to be prepared,” Madcat said. “When I’m packing to go on a trip I pack concisely and lightly. I have everything I need and that’s something I learned in Boy Scouts.”
Madcat said his father, also an Eagle Scout, taught him to appreciate the outdoors during numerous family camping trips in states such as Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming.
He also remembers taking a 10-day wilderness trip to the Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota with his Scout troop.
Closer to home, he spent a few summers at Napowan Scout Camp in Wisconsin.
He said camping was the main reason he stayed involved with the Boy Scouts. Between what he learned from his father and his time in Scouting, Madcat said he is very comfortable putting up and sleeping in a tent.
“I’d go to summer camp every summer and then I became a camp counselor for two years at a summer camp,” he said. “I loved going camping as a kid and I still love going camping now.”
There are few things that he likes better than sleeping in a tent under a tree.
“The main thing is people get so disconnected from the natural world,” Madcat said. “Camping encourages you to leave the TV and phone and get out into nature. I find that especially important.”
During his time as a camp counselor, he frequently led sing-a-longs while playing a ukulele. At age 12, one year after joining Boy Scouts, he started taking guitar lessons. Three years later he was playing the harmonica as a “minor hobby,” never thinking that this is how he would make his mark in the world of professional music.
In the late 1970s he played his harmonica in front of an audience of thousands at a National Jamboree.
Although his focus was rapidly shifting to his music, Madcat said he stayed in Scouting because he wanted to earn his Eagle Scout rank.
“I got it when I was 17 for getting 21 merit badges because that was what was required to get the Eagle Scout Award back then,” he said, adding that he “got away easy.”
After aging out of the Boy Scout program, Madcat pursued a college education that ended after two years when he was presented with an opportunity to tour with the world-renowned Dave Brubeck Band. During his time with the band, he played at world famous venues including Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall.
“I considered my apprenticeship with Brubeck to be a good reason to drop out of college,” Madcat said.
After his gig with Dave Brubeck ended, he went back to playing in local bars and coffee houses. Not long after he was playing outdoor concerts and music festivals and making appearances at children’s library programs. Sandwiched in between these gigs, Madcat made 120 recordings and earned a Grammy for his performance with the University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra on a classical CD featuring William Bolcom’s “Songs of Innocence and of Experience” which was selected as the Classical Music CD of the Year in 2006.
This summer his performance schedule takes him to Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, and New York.
Madcat’s repertoire of styles includes Blues, American Roots Music, Folk, Jazz, and World Music.
“When I first started playing I thought of it as a hobby and I thought I was really lucky to be doing this, but will probably have to do something else to make ends meet,” he said. “I knew in 1978 that I wanted to pursue music no matter what.”
Scouting Wire would like to thank Public Relations Manager Jane Parikh of the Michigan Crossroads Council for submitting this story.